Dyslexia: Six Points to Make a Difference

Young boy struggles with reading at school

Written by Dr. John Carosso

I’ve written extensively about how to effectively treat and manage dyslexia in my new book, Managing the 5 Most Challenging Childhood Behavioral Health Conditions of Our Day. For this post, I worked together with Mrs. Cynthia Postell, our wonderful Reading Specialist/Online Tutor at DyslexiaTreaters.com, to develop six important points about this common academic difficulty:

1. Early Diagnosis

It’s rare for a school district to conduct a full educational evaluation prior to the second grade. In that respect, a student will rarely qualify prior to that benchmark, and school districts also often wait and see if your child is academically challenged solely due to immaturity.  However, if you find your child is more than one grade level behind, it’s likely best to request an evaluation and ensure involvement in any available school programs, such as Title I.  A full scope of intervention is vital: some interventions can promote a student’s progress of a half-years growth over an entire school year. However, at that rate, a student in the fifth grade might possibly be reading at a second-grade level.  Don’t wait, be the best cheerleader and advocate for your child.  

2. Know Your Child’s Reading Level

Your child’s ‘reading level’ is their instructional level, i.e. at what level they can read with minimal support and feel good about themselves.  The reading level for your child may be in the form of a Lexile Number or an alphabet letter associated with a Guided Reading Level, developed by Fontas and Pinnell.  Once you’ve been provided the reading level, find resources for your child.  These reading resources are available free from public, online or school libraries.  There are also free online resources available from openlibrary.org, Oxford Owl, Storyline Online, and other resources.  

3. Read With Your Child 30 Minutes Each Day

A productive strategy is to read a selected book to your child, then ask your child to read to you.  ALWAYS use your index or pointer finger to track each word from left to right as you read.  Pause for punctuation so your child will learn prosody, and to allow your child to catch their breath before beginning the next sentence.  As reading skills improve, ask your child to read aloud to you, reminding your kiddo to use their index finger and pause for punctuation.  

4. Find Your Child’s Reading Strength

Is your child intellectual and has good reasoning skills, or are they more artsy and creative? Do they have a talent for predicting what will happen, or can they visualize and create a vivid mental picture? Does your child actively use their imagination and have the ability to be the change for innovation and ideas? Do they love horses, sharks or construction equipment?  Do they want to be an astronomer, a musician or a marine biologist? Leverage those interests and strengths by finding books and material of special interest to them, which will inspire a love for reading. 

5. Help Your Child Find the Sounds of Spoken Language

You can help your child develop phonemic awareness, or the awareness of individual sounds in words.  The first step is the development of the awareness of rhyme, which can be a game rather than a chore.  Begin by thinking of a three-letter word, such as “big”, and engage the whole family by coming up with words that rhyme, dig, gig, jig, pig or wig.  The fun aspect about this rhyming game is that the words can be nonsense words too.  When your child starts to make up rhyming nonsense words and realizes they don’t make sense, that’s a sign they are building knowledge of language, so encourage them and use nonsense words too.  You can also help sensitize your child to rhyme by reading aloud stories and poems; some favorites are Dr. Suess, Sandra Boynton, Karma Wilson, Shel Silverstein and many more. 

6. Pulling Apart and Putting Together

The next step towards phonemic awareness is blending and segmenting.  A fun activity is by clapping or tapping syllables with your child.  Initially, put your flattened hand under your chin to feel the syllable segmentation.  If you over-emphasize the movement of your jaw as you say the words, you will feel the movement; this movement can be counted as individual syllables.  Once your child is comfortable segmenting words and counting syllables in this way, your child can learn to clap their hands or tap their knee to count syllables.  Combining syllables is the next skill to practice; ask your child, “Can you tell me what word “kit…. ten” makes?  Continue to practice pulling apart and putting together syllables until your child is fluently reading.    

These strategies are only the beginning, but a solid place to start.  Another bonus suggestion: find a list of Dolch sight words, high frequency words, and the Fry First 300 words.  Create flashcards or use technology to create Quizlet games and practice them daily.  Most high frequency and sight words do not follow common spelling rules yet have to be recognizable on sight and texts are full of them. This practice will be advantageous to your emerging reader.  

Happy Reading!!

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Dr. John Carosso

Dr. Carosso has more than 30 years of experience as a licensed Child Clinical Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist working in private, inpatient, outpatient, residential, school, and home settings. He is Clinical Director of Community Psychiatric Centers (cpcwecare.com), a licensed Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic, and operates both the Autism Center of Pittsburgh (autismcenterofpittsburgh.com) and the Dyslexia Diagnostic and Treatment Center (dyslexiatreaters.com).